Mind Matters Natural and Artificial Intelligence News and Analysis

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Concept of shame and ridicule

Non-Materialist Science Is Wanted — Dead or Alive

Exploring a non-materialist approach to the mind has included a death threat for neurosurgeon Michael Egnor

Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor did a recent podcast with Arjuna Das at Theology Unleashed, “where Eastern theology meets Western skepticism.” In the previous segment, they discussed the way in which epilepsy provides a glimpse into the way the mind is not simply the brain but has powers in its own right. In this segment, Dr. Egnor talks about the problems of being a non-materialist physician in a materialist world — death threats and all. Here is a partial transcript and notes for the 1 hour 44 minute mark to the 1 hour 56 minute mark: Arjuna Das: You said how scientists, if they reject physicalism, it doesn’t help their career. They might get less opportunities or less prestige or whatever… I…

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Man with his back walking through the fog street

Is a Science Writer’s “Agnosticism” a Futile Pursuit?

John Horgan, a creative thinker and able writer, is agnostic about quantum mechanics, consciousness, and God. But let’s look at the bases for that.

If science writer John Horgan had merely said that agnosticism is the only sensible stance regarding God, there would be little surprise. That view is over-represented in popular science writing. But he says the same thing about quantum mechanics and consciousness too. Some brief snippets from his article (with brief responses): He’s not happy that quantum mechanics, a well-established branch of science (our computers would not work if it were not real) cannot eliminate the role of the conscious observer: Quantum mechanics Introducing consciousness into physics undermines its claim to objectivity. Moreover, as far as we know, consciousness arises only in certain organisms that have existed for a brief period here on Earth. So how can quantum mechanics, if it’s…

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Woman pray with bible, Asian woman believe in the prayer to God, Christian student pray for study to pass the exam in the library at the college .Bible and christian study concept

Researchers: Prolonged Meditation Alters the Brain

The changes were detected mainly in the frontal and parietal lobes

Andrew Newberg and colleagues have found that extended periods of prayer and meditationcan change the brain: We studied one such seven-day programme in Pennsylvania based on the spiritual exercises of Saint Ignatius. Our research on this retreat programme, which is typically conducted in silence and consists of extended periods of prayer and meditation, showed a number of differences in participants’ brains after the retreat compared with before it. For one, our study looked at the effects of the retreat programme on serotonin and dopamine, two critical neurotransmitters involved in many of our emotional and cognitive processes. The results suggested that a person’s brain becomes more sensitised to the effects of serotonin and dopamine, which might help us understand how retreat…

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cute model of the Earth, Sun and Moon with googly eyes on the chalkboard, a donut, a globe and a cookie on the chalkboard

When God Gets Distracted — Sci-fi Saturday

A clever animated short offers a take on why there is so much violence and chaos in the world

“Tales from the Multiverse” uploaded at DUST by director Magnus Igland Møller (August 6, 2021, 6:36 min, animated) “God is a single parent and amateur programmer. He’s working on project ‘Earth’ but never seems to get a break from the kids. One day though, he finally gets a breakthrough.” Review: This film debuted in 2020 (IMDB). It’s a clever riff on why we live in a crazy world. God can’t really concentrate on the computer program he is using to simulate (create Earth) because he is breaking up fights between his kids. He tries out Adam and Eve, a round Earth and a flat Earth, and dinosaurs living alongside Stone Age people. But his absence, even when he seems to…

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Religion conflicts global issue

Religion Is Far Too Complex to Have a Single Evolution Story

Casey Luskin reflects on Yuval Noah Harari’s thesis that religion evolved through stages because humans needed it in order to co-operate in larger groups

In Sapiens: A Brief History of Humankind (2015), historian Yuval Noah Harari recounts a familiar sort of tale about the origin of religion. Casey Luskin, who has been reviewing the book, explains, Yuval Noah Harari tells the standard evolutionary story. According to this story, religion began as a form of animism among small bands of hunters and gatherers and then proceeded to polytheism and finally monotheism as group size grew with the first agricultural civilizations. At each stage, he argues, religion evolved in order to provide the glue that gave the group the cohesive unity it needed (at its given size) to cooperate and survive. Casey Luskin, “Reviewing Sapiens: Getting the Origin of Religion Backwards” at Evolution News and Science…

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shamanic girl with frame drum on abstract structured space background.

A Glimpse of Sci-Fi in a World of Panpsychism — Sci-fi Saturday

Shamanism isn’t science, of course, but it makes more fictional sense in a sci-fi world where everything has a soul than one where nothing does

“The Shaman” at DUST (July 30, 2021) by Marco Kalantari (2015 at IMDB, 16:16) The dark year 2204, in a world that has seen 73 years of continuous war. Recently mankind re-discovered the arts of Shamanism. The Shaman’s school of thought believes that every person or object has a soul. During battle Shamans step over into the Netherworld to find and convert the souls of their enemies’ giant battle machines. This tactic enables a single man to overcome an invincibly seeming steel monster. This is the story of Joshua, a Shaman, who is sent on a mission to convert the soul of a giant battle colossus. He does not yet know that the soul is prepared for his coming and…

atoms
Atom Particle

Why Neurosurgeon Mike Egnor Stopped Being a Materialist Atheist

He found that materialism is just not working out in science

Neurosurgeon Michael Egnor did another podcast with Arjuna Das at Theology Unleashed, “where Eastern theology meets Western skepticism.” Among other things, Egnor talked about why he ceased to be an atheist as he learned more about science and its dependence on mathematics, which is not a material thing. A partial transcript follows, taking us down to 15 minutes, with notes (more in a further installment): Arjuna Das: (00:01:49) Today, I’ve got Michael Egnor on. I’m very delighted to have him on for a second time. He’s a neurosurgeon, a Christian, and he’s quite good at arguing philosophy too… W So we’ll start out with him telling a little bit of a story, how he changed his metaphysical views through things…

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Underpass near the subway in the city in the late evening

Do Only Western Religious People Have Near-Death Experiences?

Even famous atheist philosopher A. J. Ayer had a near-death experience

Gregory Shushan, author of Near-Death Experience in Indigenous Religions (2018) notes in a recent article at Psyche that near-death experiences are not a new discovery: NDEs have been popularly recognised in the West since the mid-1970s, but people from the largest empires to the smallest hunter-gatherer societies have been having them throughout history. Accounts are found in ancient sacred texts, historical documents, the journals of explorers and missionaries, and the ethnographic reports of anthropologists. Among the hundreds I’ve collected are those of a 7th-century BCE Chinese provincial ruler, a 4th-century BCE Greek soldier, a 12th-century Belgian saint, a 15th-century Mexica princess, an 18th-century British admiral, a 19th-century Ghanaian victim of human sacrifice, and a Soviet man who’d apparently killed himself…

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chemin vers le brouillard

Remembering a Biologist’s Remarkable Confession of Faith

Is it scientific misconduct to make science about materialist atheism?

My friend and colleague Casey Luskin has penned a poignant essay in memory of Richard Lewontin, a Harvard evolutionary biologist who passed away at 92 recently. Casey is a gentleman and a scholar, and very much disposed to finding the best in people. Indeed it seems there was much that was very good in Lewontin’s persona, and Casey highlighted it beautifully in his encomium. I am not of the opinion, however, that we should speak only good of the dead. The passing of a public figure is a good time to consider his impact, and Lewontin’s impact on American culture and science is something very much worth considering. By all accounts, Lewontin was a gentleman and a good friend and…

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Black Hole in space

What Happens If Earth Passes Through a Black Hole—Sci-fi Saturday

This story isn’t exactly about passage through a black hole: It is a meditation on nothingness that crashes headfirst into nihilism

“Until There Was Nothing” at DUST by Paul Trillo (August 25, 2020, 5:36 min) “A philosophical video and art exploration of the Earth’s passage through a black hole.” Review: This film is actually a philosophical meditation on nothingness — the concept of non-entity, as every concept of mathematics, physics, natural law, and order vanishes. Gravity reverses itself at odd moments for no particular reason. Terrifying. Whether the filmmakers intended this or not, it is really a meditation on the way the fundamental constants of the universe work. And what would happen if they didn’t. For more, see the Kalam Constant, a philosophical proof of the existence of God. — A note re our new feature below: We sort reviewed films…

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African American woman studing and reading the Bible.

Does Religious Belief Help People Think in a More Complex Way?

One psychologist became interested in the question because many studies have associated religious belief with better health and greater longevity

University of South Florida psychologist Jay L. Michaels, who has a background in experimental social psychology and quantitative psychology, designed a study to test that proposition: In the study, 630 adults from from 48 countries completed a cognitive assessment in which they were asked to pick a phrase that best described a given behavior. They had the choice of picking a high-level description (which focused on why the action was performed) or a low-level description (which focused on mechanistic aspects of the action.) For example, one item asked whether “reading” was better described as “Gaining knowledge” or “Following lines of print.” Eric W. Dolan, “New study links intrinsic religious motivation to higher-level patterns of thought” at PsyPost (May 22, 2021)…

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Coronavirus covid-19. Child praying to God requesting that the coronavirus covid 19 not spread beyond control.

Side effects: COVID Got People Praying Again

Despite the fact that many could not go to houses of worship

McLean Hospital psychologist David H. Rosmarin has the stats: In the early days of the pandemic, economist Jeanet Bentzen of the University of Copenhagen examined Google searches for the word “prayer” in 95 countries. She identified that they hit an all-time global high in March 2020, and increases occurred in lockstep with the number of COVID-19 cases identified in each country. Stateside, according to the Pew Research Center, 55 percent of Americans prayed to end the spread of the novel coronavirus in March 2020, and nearly one quarter reported that their faith increased the following month, despite limited access to houses of worship. David H. Rosmarin, “Psychiatry Needs to Get Right with God” at Scientific American (June 15, 2021) Not…

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dachsund dog portrait studio looking up.

Do Any Dogs Go To Heaven? If So, Why?

Neuroscientist Christof Koch was troubled as a child by the Catholic tradition that dogs like his beloved Purzel did not go to heaven

In recent articles, we’ve discussed well-known neuroscientist Christof Koch’s Integrated Information Theory (IIT) of consciousness which, as he acknowledges, takes a panpsychist (everything is conscious to some degree) approach to the mind. He has explained his reasoning at MIT Press Reader: Materialists must see human consciousness as an illusion — but then whose illusion is it? Panpsychism allows humans to have actual consciousness but, he says, “experience may not even be restricted to biological entities but might extend to non-evolved physical systems previously assumed to be mindless — a pleasing and parsimonious conclusion about the makeup of the universe.” His perspective is gaining popularity in science. One, perhaps unexpected, factor that he mentions as shaping his overall approach was youthful…

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Statue of Saint Anselm and the towers of the Cathedral of Aosta, the Cattedrale di Aosta de Corso Pere-Laurent in Aosta. Aosta Valley. Italy. Europe

Gödel Says God Exists and Proves It

Here is a line-by-line explanation of his proof

Kurt Gödel, an intellectual giant of the 20th century, offered a mathematical proof that God exists. Those who suffer from math anxiety admire what the theorem (shown below) claims to do, but have absolutely no idea what it means. Our goal is to explain, in English, what Gödel’s existence of God proof says. Gödel’s proof shows the existence of God is a necessary truth. The idea behind the truth is not new and dates back to Saint Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109). Great scientists and philosophers, including Descartes and Leibniz, have reconsidered and refined Anselm’s argument. Gödel appears to be the first, however, to present the argument using mathematical logic. Lexicography In any development of a mathematical theory, there are foundational axioms…

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Image catastrophe on Earth

What Would the Ruins of “Eden” Be Like?: Sci-fi Saturday

Scavenging for artifacts on a ruined planet, a space drifter comes across the ruins of a high-tech civilization

“Eden” (2018) at DUST (May 20, 2021) by Kristian Bakstad, 11:51 min: “Deep in the recesses of space, a lone scavenger hunts for a valuable artifact on a desolate planet. When he discovers an abandoned facility, he ventures inside hoping for his big payday; but instead encounters a mad man and the remnants of a religious cult.” Review: This one got a lot of negative reviews but the studio has been around for a while, so let’s have another look. The lead character (Christoff Lundgren) is agreeably scuzzy, batting around in space. The opening portrays his lifestyle well: His tracking system detects something that might be evidence of a ruined advanced ET civilization to scavenge. He needs something he can…

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mobile connect with security camera

How Much of Your Income — and Life — Does Big Tech Control?

Erik J. Larson reviews the groundbreaking book Surveillance Capitalism, on how big corporations make money out of tracking your every move

In a review of Shoshana Zuboff’s groundbreaking Surveillance Capitalism (2019), computer science historian Erik J. Larson recounts a 1950s conflict of ideas between two pioneers, Norbert Wiener (1894-1964) and John McCarthy (1927–2011). Wiener warned, in his largely forgotten book The Human Use of Human Beings (1950), about “new forms of control made possible by the development of advancing technologies.” McCarthy, by contrast, coined the term “artificial intelligence” (1956), implying his belief in “the official effort to program computers to exhibit human-like intelligence.” His “AI Rules” view came to be expressed not in a mere book but in — probably — hundreds of thousands of media articles warning about or celebrating the triumph of AI over humanity. If you are skeptical…

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in the dzhokang temple

Why the Chinese Communist Party Feels It Must Destroy Religion

Persecution of religious groups is not based on what they actually teach but on whether their separate existence could pose a threat to the Communist Party

The U.S. Department of State’s just-released 2020 Annual Report on the state of religious freedom around the world devotes 136 pages to China. That’s because the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) uses an extensive network of surveillance cameras coupled with facial recognition software — as well as cell phone tracking, internet and message monitoring, and biometric profiling — to persecute adherents of non-state-sanctioned organizations. Advances in collecting and storage of massive amounts of data to be sifted by algorithms have made this possible. In 2020, according to the report, the CCP used the COVID-19 pandemic to suppress religion through monitoring house church locations, shutting down online services, and creating bureaucratic barriers to opening buildings for worship. Through this “stability maintenance program,”…

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double exposure of the Passion of the Christ

The Brain Prosperity Gospel: Can “Neurotheology” Be Real Science?

The study of the neuroscience of mental states, including religious belief, is a reasonable pursuit but neurotheology, as a science, faces huge obstacles

Neurotheology is the study of the neuroscience associated with spiritual experience. It is a growing field. In a recent essay, Andrew Newberg, a prominent researcher, discusses recent advances: The field of neurotheology continues to expand from its early origins several decades ago to the present day. In its simplest definition, neurotheology refers to the field of scholarship that seeks to understand the relationship between the brain and our religious and spiritual selves. As I always like to say, it is important to consider both sides of neurotheology very broadly. Thus, the “neuro” side includes brain imaging, psychology, neurology, medicine, and even anthropology. And the “theology” side includes theology itself, but also various aspects related to religious beliefs, attitudes, practices, and…

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Big brother

How Orwell’s 1984 Can Be Seen As an Argument for God’s Existence

Atheism is not only fundamental to the power of the Party in 1984 but is also its central weakness

University of Nebraska political science prof Carson Holloway (pictured) asks, “Does discrediting the existence of God promote enlightened thinking or a lack of objective reality?” Unpacking the social structure in George Orwell’s classic totalitarian dystopia, 1984 (1949), he observes that not only does the Party have the power of life and death but the atheistic Party faithful fear death as utter annihilation: Atheism is the moral basis of the Party’s unlimited hold on its own members because it makes them terrified of death as absolute nonexistence. Like any government, the Party in 1984 has the power to kill disobedient subjects. Party members, however, view death not just as the end of bodily life, but as a complete erasure of their…